DISTRIBUTED: 6 Steps to a More Transparent Business

In this day and age, transparency is a necessity for every business—distributed or not. When more than 1,700 chief executive officers were surveyed for an IBM Global CEO Study, the majority agreed that openness and transparency are key to a company’s success.

Transparency breeds trust—and research reveals a definitive link between organizational trust and overall business performance. According to Building Trust in Business, an annual survey conducted by Interaction Associates, high-performing organizations have consistently placed more value on customer and employee relationships than lower-performing businesses. As a result, workers at high-performing firms are better at retaining key employees. "High levels of trust equals high performance," Linda Stewart, CEO of Interaction Associates, told Entrepreneur magazine. “If you look at the lower-performing companies, in all cases they had lower levels of trust."

I Can See Clearly Now

Because remote workers literally cannot see their managers, distributed businesses are inherently opaque. Distributed team members often feel disconnected from the business, which can promulgate paranoia and suspicion. This leads to a distrustful work culture and lower productivity.

This is why it’s so important for distributed team leaders to pull back the curtain and give their employees a clear view of the company’s day-to-day business. If you don’t want to leave your distributed team in the dark, take these six simple steps to make your business more transparent:

Step 1: Bulldoze silos

At Intridea, we believe it’s important not to build communication “silos,” which essentially lock up information in private emails or individual conversations. Unless there’s a good reason not to broadcast certain sensitive details, we ensure company communications and information are easily accessible to the entire team. After all, knowledge is power; but valuable information is useless to the company if you don’t share it with your team.

When you depend on communication silos, important information gets bottled up in individual inboxes, chat accounts or even inside employees’ heads. Break down these barriers by using technology that allows your team to easily share information with each other. Which leads us to the next step…

Step 2: Use transparent collaboration tools

Without open communication and the tools to support it, ideas and information will end up trapped in a silo where only a few people can access it. This is why it’s important for distributed businesses to use collaborative technology tools that make information readily available to the entire team.

When we at Intridea have a project involving more than one person, we typically use a group chat tool instead of multi-person emails. This opens up project information, ensuring that everyone involved with the project is fully aware of the current status. It also gives the added advantage of providing a searchable, archived history of the project.

Step 3: Encourage open communication across the board

Here at Intridea, we try to cultivate a culture of openness and trust by maintaining clear and truthful communication with employees. The lines of communication work both ways. Not only should distributed workers remain in constant communication with their managers—but managers should also be open and frank with their team members.

When you communicate with your team, don’t mince words. You should always be forthright in your communications with teammates and clearly explain the motives and thinking behind your opinions and decisions. Help your colleagues understand your position by providing them with all the information—not just bits and pieces. This preserves trust and boosts group decision making.

Above all else, be honest. When you communicate with your employees, make sure they know exactly what’s in store for their career and the company in general.

Step 4: Curb back-channel chatter

As with any organization, rumors can spread rapidly in a distributed company. Since distributed managers aren’t in the same physical location as their employees, they don’t have an opportunity to hear the hushed whispers in the hallway. Unfortunately, many remote team leaders don’t learn about rumors until after they’ve taken a toll on the organization.

This is why it’s important to be proactive when it comes to curtailing rumors. How do you accomplish this? By making your company as transparent as possible. In the absence of information, your team members will dream up their own reasons for unexplained happenings—and these reasons can sometimes be uncharitable, inaccurate or downright ludicrous.

“Rumors arise in situations that are ambiguous,” writes author and psychology professor Nicholas DiFonzo in his book The Watercooler Effect: A Psychologist Explores the Extraordinary Power of Rumors. “Rumor is primarily what people do together when they are trying to make sense and manage threat in an ambiguous context.”

Imagine a key employee leaves a company. Of course, your distributed team will realize the employee is gone—but without any details about what happened, they might assume the worst and start wondering if they’ll be on the chopping block next. Rather than pretend the employee never existed, address the situation head-on with the rest of the team. First communicate the details to the team members most directly affected, and then send a clear message to the rest of the company.

DiFonzo points out that transparency is the best way to squelch rumors. “Developing a norm of transparency and reducing uncertainty may be as simple as periodically posing the question, ‘Has anybody heard any rumors lately?’—and then being sure to respond honestly, quickly and convincingly,” he suggests.

Step 5: Share job openings with the team

In the spirit of transparency, be sure to share new job openings with team members before you post these positions publicly. This ensures your employees aren’t taken by surprise, which may make them question their job security. Plus, when you inform your team about a new position in advance, they can contribute to the recruitment process through referrals and social or professional networks.

Step 6: Realize transparency doesn’t equal micromanagement

Although it’s important to embrace transparency and ensure distributed employees maintain communication with their managers, this isn’t an excuse to micromanage. Numerous studies have proven that micromanagement can result in serious consequences, including disenchanted employees and inefficient teams. In fact, employees have singled out micromanagement as the most significant barrier to their productivity, according to a survey by office products manufacturers FranklinCovey.

It’s important to maintain a healthy balance between communicating with team members and giving them space to accomplish their job as they see fit.

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